Immigration Key to St. Louis Growth, Will Comprise 40%+ of New Residents in Next 15 Years

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How can St. Louis grow? Can the city return to 400,000+ residents in the forseable future? It's likely to depend on immigration. Although it's estimated that foreign-born residents account for just 4% of St. Louis metro area residents, that same population will be the driver for any population increase.

Annually since 2000 it's estimated that 5,000 more native-born residents left St. Louis than arrived. There were approximately 11,000 more births than deaths in St. Louis and almost 4,000 more foreign-born residents arrived than left. Therefore, foreign-born immigration accounted for a full 40% of the population increase.

All numbers are from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). By contrast it is estimated that the foreign-born population of Seattle was 18% in 2000. Immigration is a source of innovation and creativity. Immigrants add to the culture and productivity of our lives. Of course immigrants also change our culture and lives and that's not always welcomed.

St. Louis doesn't have the advantage of being a coastal city, a natural immigration hub, but we do have incredible resources at our disposal to attract immigrants. St. Louis is clean, safe and livable. Housing is cheap, transportation is relatively easy, etc. What we do not have is a political climate that would welcome immigrants, perhaps other than the English, Irish and a few Italians.

This is where the city may have an advantage. St. Louis City is more diverse, more liberal, and dare I say, more welcoming to immigrants. In fact the city needs immigrants. With the city's Bosnian population an entire swath of South City would be empty. We have enough fallow land to build 20,000 housing units. More should be done to attract immigrants.

A shiny new park downtown and the reworking of the Arch Grounds may lure a couple thousands St. Louisians from Maplewood, Kirkwood or even O'Fallon (either one) to the city, but nothing is going to bring the natives back to the city in groves. Want to fill Benton Park, Fox Park, Forest Park Southeast and NorthSide? It's going to take more than St. Louisians to do it. So what can be done to more aggressively attract immigrants?

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